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Do Addictions Need to Be Replaced with Something Else?

As people move away from addictive substances, they often try to replace their addiction with something else, usually healthy. While on the surface, this might seem like a much-needed and helpful approach to relapse prevention, often, it can backfire. Initially, people think addictions need to be replaced with something else, particularly those trying to quit by themselves. However, they don’t realize that addiction replacement isn’t an effective treatment for their obsessive behavior or compulsion, let alone their addictions. 

Why Goals Are So Important to Prevent Self-Sabotage and Relapse

Throughout rehab and after treatment, goals become an essential part of recovery. These goals can be as small as taking a shower every day or as ambitious as going back to college. By working towards a goal, people can engage in healthy, rewarding mechanisms that hopefully keep them away from substances. 

On the other hand, focusing on goals is also a way to maintain some sort of structure. Once most people leave alcohol and drug addiction treatment, they’re faced with an unexpected sense of freedom and disorganization that leaves room for triggers and cravings. Having a set of goals can prevent self-sabotage and relapse. However, setting SMART goals is vital to ensure these will help with your recovery efforts, rather than push you towards a mindless journey. For reference, SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable 
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-based

Do Addictions Need to Be Replaced? The Dangers of This Practice

Everyone who’s battled an addiction knows the concept of addiction replacement a bit too well. Initially, they go from eating to smoking, from shopping to drinking, from sex to work. These are all classic replacements that are seen as healthier substitutes to addiction, but they can also be a desperate attempt to compensate for the lack of emotional or psychological reward drugs or alcohol usually deliver. 

People forget that addictions to things like exercise and healthy eating can be detrimental and unhealthy in the long run. Trading addiction means you’re not truthfully addressing the core issue. Instead, you’re essentially letting a new addiction take the place of previously addictive behavior. 

Why People Transfer their Addictions

A high majority of people already struggle with polysubstance abuse. This means they have difficulties with more than one behavioral issue, including substance use disorders, eating disorders, behavioral addictions, impulse control, and mental illness. These co-occurring conditions make it challenging to find addiction recovery. 

The most common addiction replacements include:

Even after completing treatment, recovering addicts have lower levels of dopamine in the brain, limiting their ability to feel happiness or excitement. This can influence them to transfer their addictive behaviors to new addictions to fulfill the craving or reduce the lack of thrill. 

Unfortunately, some people don’t recognize that they’re replacing addictions. Even when they trade drugs for exercise or healthy eating, they don’t remember the addictive behaviors that led them to substance abuse in the first place. Without noticing, they could potentially be moving towards a relapse shortly. 

How to Tell If You’re Replacing Addictions

Addiction can be more than dependence on drugs and alcohol. Many individuals transfer their addiction to healthy activities like work or exercise. Even activities like shopping or cooking that seem like a healthier alternative to drugs can negatively affect them. Signs that you’re replacing addictions include:

  • Always thinking about this new activity
  • Losing sleep to participate in the recent activity
  • Trouble at work, school, or at home as a result of this new activity
  • Relationship with your spouse or loved ones due to your new activity
  • Neglecting self-care and personal hygiene
  • Experiencing anxiety or depression if unable to complete this new activity
  • Suicidal thoughts

Healthy Ways to Maintain Sobriety and Prevent Addiction Replacement

The key to preventing addiction replacement is to focus on addiction by looking at compulsive behaviors rather than the substance of choice. Comprehensive addiction treatment programs focus on thoughts, actions, and behaviors over the substance of choice. This approach helps treat addiction at its core and reduce the rates of relapse. 

Of course, healthy eating, exercise, and work are all part of a healthy transition into recovery. Rather than seeing the need for change as a negative, recovery should be viewed as an opportunity for change. It’s imperative to work with therapists, including after treatment, to continue developing relapse prevention skills that help you recognize triggers and maintain a healthy lifestyle without trading addictions. 

Focusing on managing addictive behaviors and patterns is critical for long-term recovery. Consider joining aftercare programs to keep up with a similar structure that helps you manage triggers and cravings better. Continue support meetings and group sessions to share struggles with others that will understand. Reach out to a therapist if you feel you’re shifting towards another addiction, even if it seems harmless, like hoarding furniture. Remember, beyond the way substances alter your brain’s reward system, it is the addictive behavior that places you at risk of relapse. 

Finding Help Near You 

Leaving a treatment facility can be exciting and the beginning of a new chapter. However, you’re also entering uncharted territory without the presence of substances in your life. Even with the best intentions, you might feel that addictions need to be replaced with something else. In fact, many people out of recovery will tell you that. Don’t listen. 

If you or someone who struggles with addiction thinks they might be falling for new obsessive behavior, or are at risk of relapse, seek help. As you already know, there’s no harm or shame in seeking help for a setback. Keep your focus on your recovery, and remember that it does take a village to fight addiction. Don’t jeopardize your recovery journey for someone else’s opinion or for the idea that some addictions are somehow less harmful than others. 

At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we cherish our aftercare rehab programs and our relationship with those in addiction recovery. We don’t believe addictions need to be replaced. Instead, our therapists understand the ups and downs of recovery and know that sometimes new behaviors and activities can be exciting and thrilling. We work with patients to help them gain the skills and tools they need to recognize when these new activities turn against them to prevent relapse.

We devise treatment plans that focus on managing the underlying causes of addictions to help you enjoy even the smallest things in life through therapy and alternative treatments. If you’re ready to begin your recovery journey, contact us today. 

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